Is Your Child a Gadget Geek, Entertainer or Socialite?

British children divide into three main behavioural types determined by their online activities – Gadget Geeks, Confident Entertainers, or Socialites, according to new research into how under-18s use the internet, conducted by international consumer research specialist Intersperience.

Gadget Geeks, who account for 25% of under-18s, are the most proficient internet users, highly enthusiastic about the online world, excited by new technology gadgets and they expect to be able to access the internet wherever they go. There are more boys than girls in this category which comprises 56% males and is also dominated by 12-17 year olds. Gadget Geeks are unlikely to make new friendships online but are very chatty online with existing groups of friends, Intersperience found.

Confident Entertainers are the biggest group, accounting for 31% of under-18s, with a more even gender split. They are keen on online entertainment and particularly like gaming sites such as Friv, Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters and Beast Quest. They lack the enthusiasm of Gadget Geeks and have lower expectations of constant connectivity.

In the Socialite category, girls outnumber boys, accounting for 57% of this group which is keen on chatting and other social activities online and also most likely to forge new online friendships. Socialites tend to be younger children, with 77% ranging from age 8 to 14.

The remainder of under-18s (30%) are classified as E-Beginners who are highly enthusiastic about the internet but more likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of information online and least likely to make new friends online. This category is dominated by under-12s who often have constrained online access in terms of time and browsing freedom due to parental controls. However a substantial number of teens still count as E-Beginners.

Intersperience Chief Executive Paul Hudson said: “Children and teens generally view the online world as an ‘always-on’ virtual playground and a constant companion that stays with them wherever they go. However when you analyse what under 18s actually do online, distinct behavioural trends emerge which influence the sites they gravitate to, how comfortable they are online and whether they are likely to make new online friends.”

The findings emerged from the ‘Digital Futures’ project, which surveyed 1,000 young people in the UK between the ages of eight and 18 on the impact of online and digital technology in their lives. Researchers also did field research with family groups which captured the views and experiences of parents and younger children, representing one of the most comprehensive studies of under-18s and the internet to be conducted in the UK.

All children were found to have a strong emotional attachment to the internet, but particularly Gadget Geeks of whom 73% said they would be sad without it. The emotional connection among under-18s is stronger overall than in the adult population where our previous research found that 53% of over-18s would be sad without the internet.

Hudson said: “Generally Digital Natives are more at home online than adults, more skilled in conducting a wide range of activities online and also much smarter than parents realise about data back-ups, security and privacy. Even though we detected differences among under-18s in terms of skill and confidence online, to an extent that reflects the fact that the youngest kids are still on a learning curve.”

Interviews with families participating in the project revealed that parents frequently impose parental controls on internet access for children, either denying them password privacy or limiting websites they can access.

Our project found that 40% of under-18s had been blocked from some websites by their parents. One mother of 11 year old twins said: “The day they change their password and I can’t get on is the day they lose their internet access.”

Facebook features heavily in online social communication among under-18s, second only to texting as the most commonly cited social activity. The research showed that even pre-teens regularly use Facebook, despite the fact the age limit for Facebook is 13 and it found that Facebook contact from adults, particularly parents, is considered unacceptable.

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